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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs

Natural Killer

A Memoir

by (author) Harriet Alida Lye

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Dec 2020
Personal Memoirs, Motherhood, Cancer
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2020
    List Price

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"I need people to know that I exist, that their experiment worked, that by some combination of luck and science, I'm alive."

In this harrowing and intimate memoir, Harriet Alida Lye explores how, at just fifteen years old, she was diagnosed with a form of leukemia called Natural Killer, named "the rarest and worst malignancy." The average survival time of patients with this diagnosis is fifty-eight days. There are no known survivors. There were no known survivors.

Fifteen years after Harriet's diagnosis, she became pregnant, despite having been told that her chemotherapy treatment would likely make conception impossible. To be a mother is to make a death, as death is bound up in life. She knew her body had the ability to create death. She never trusted, was told to not even imagine, that it also had the power, that magical banality, to create life.

Weaving in source material from the year she spent in hospital, written by both of her parents and her teenage self, this personal reflection is told through a seamless blend of narrative, snapshots, journal entries, and blog updates posted for friends and family.

With probing lyricism and searing honesty, Natural Killer explores what it's like to live with a life-threatening illness and survive it; what it means for a body to turn against itself, to self-destruct from within; and what it takes to regain trust in a body that has committed the ultimate betrayal.

About the author

Harriet Alida Lye is a writer from Richmond Hill, Ontario. She studied Philosophy and English at the University of King's College in Halifax and lived in Paris for the better part of eight years. She founded and edited Her Royal Majesty, a literary arts magazine that ran for six years and published James Franco, Robert Hass, and the first-ever short story by Alice Munro. Her fiction, essays, and reporting have been published by VICE, Hazlitt, Happy Reader, The Guardian, The National Post, and more. Harriet now lives in Toronto, and works at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. This is her first novel.

Harriet Alida Lye's profile page

Editorial Reviews

Advance praise for Harriet Alida Lye and Natural Killer:

 “Never have I read a more moving book on the fragile filament of life, the bond between people who love one another and struggle to find the words to express that love. The words are here, so wise and specific and drawn from the inward part. Harriet Alida Lye has no truck with fantasy or faith or folderol. She is a star witness to the bloom of life that surrounds death, and her work demands access to our unsentimental hearts.” —Michael Winter, author of Into the Blizzard

Natural Killer is less a cancer memoir (though it is that) as a wise and heart-affirming reflection on the ties that bind us to one another: on motherhood but also daughterhood, control and surrender, and the body’s limit experiences. Harriet Alida Lye brilliantly weaves her materials together, from firsthand memories to medical records, scenes of the body ravaged and scenes of the body creating, in a truly original work of autobiography.” —Lauren Elkin, author of Flâneuse

“Harriet Alida Lye takes the enormous cruelty of indiscriminate disease and creates something truly beautiful and deeply moving. A book about the terror of death that is brimming with the warmth and vibrancy of life.” —Stacey May Fowles, author of Baseball Life Advice

“What a rare thing to read a book that makes you pause in reflection on nearly every page. Natural Killer is a remarkable story of an inspiring family that is both heartbreaking and hopeful. Alida Lye’s writing, intimate and subtle, asks profound questions about life, death, hope and trust that made me grateful to have spent time in her beautiful mind. This work, crafted so thoughtfully, will stay with me for a very long time.” —Ashley Audrain, author of The Push

“In this generous book, Harriet Alida Lye opens up her life—and her body—to us. She guides us through the peaks and nadirs of human experience with her sensuous prose, her keen eye for the beauty that exists even in the terrible moments, and, above all, her boundless, fierce love.” —Anna Maxymiw, author of Dirty Work

“Everything about this book is exceptional: the writing, the potency of its images, the portrayal of two lives linked across time, the writer herself. I cannot recommend this enough.” —Nafkote Tamirat, author of The Parking Lot Attendant
"Gorgeous, brutal, a meteorite of a book. Natural Killer holds the sheer force and radical beauty of the miracle it depicts. Harriet Alida Lye was supposed to die at fifteen and did not. She then went on to become a mother. Looking into the dark centre of love, death and new life, Lye writes with the wisdom and measure of a young Didion. To read this memoir is to be changed by it." —Claudia Dey, author of Heartbreaker and Stunt

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